Round the Bend: Scouting the Hard Scrabbler

In a world often stripped of mystery, there's something magical about riding 'round a bend for the first time—completely unaware of what's to come. Yesterday, I was reminded of that magic, of that sense of adventure you get when exploring new and unknown places.

Carving through the North Florida countryside, I spent hours searching for roads that could be patched together for this year's Hard Scrabbler Half Century. My hope was to walk away with a quilt of paved, gravel and grass roads, giving riders a full-throated adventure riding experience.

But, less than 30-minutes into my reconnaissance ride, I was forced to reconcile my preconceptions of what the land had to offer (gravel) with what it actually offers (rutted sand and loose clay).

After several fruitless attempts to swim through inches of sand and clay, I resorted to the network of backcountry roads—many of which would unexpectedly dead end onto gated private property, or worse still, battered clay.

Endless u-turns finally pieced together a tenable route that, while stunningly beautiful, lacked the character that defines an epic ride. Defeated, I racked my bike to survey the last stretch of road from the car. That's when I saw it: Florida Historic State Road 1, a 5.5-mile section of decaying red brick sat between the railroad responsible for its creation, and the highway responsible for its demise.

Just when I thought I knew what lay 'round the bend, I found what I'd been looking all along, the X-factor that would distinguish the Hard Scrabbler from just another Saturday group ride: pavé.

To the credit of unawareness, of seeking without finding, and finding without seeking, the Hard Scrabbler may not be the full-throated adventure ride we'd hoped to create, but I'm confident it will infuse a little mystery back into the lives of those who conquer it.

 About an hour in, riders will have a chance to regroup, refresh their bottles, and purchase snacks at the 'Up the Creek' Country Store.

About an hour in, riders will have a chance to regroup, refresh their bottles, and purchase snacks at the 'Up the Creek' Country Store.

 Riders will cycle by stunning farm-side vistas like this one repeatedly over the 35+ miles of country road incorporated into this year's route.

Riders will cycle by stunning farm-side vistas like this one repeatedly over the 35+ miles of country road incorporated into this year's route.

 Riders will regroup one last time next to Deaton Bridge—inside Blackwater River State Park—where they'll have a chance to dip their toes in the river before heading home.

Riders will regroup one last time next to Deaton Bridge—inside Blackwater River State Park—where they'll have a chance to dip their toes in the river before heading home.

 After 2.5 hours of searching, I finally found the defining feature of the Hard Scrabbler: pavé. Riders will round the final bend to fly over the remaining 5.5 miles of Florida Historic State Road 1.

After 2.5 hours of searching, I finally found the defining feature of the Hard Scrabbler: pavé. Riders will round the final bend to fly over the remaining 5.5 miles of Florida Historic State Road 1.